About Proofreading

IF YOU'VE WRITTEN and typed all the words, you can't do an effective job of editing or proofreading that writing because your mind knows what you meant to say, and when you read what you've written, your eyes will see only what your mind tells them to see.

Actual Headlines
from Publications
Around the World

Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

Clinton Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Enraged Cow Injures Farmer With Ax

Humorous Rules for Writing Good

Each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.

Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

Don't use no double negatives.

A writer mustn't shift your point of view.

Don't use a run-on sentence you got to punctuate it.

About sentence fragments.

Don't use commas, which aren't necessary.

Don't abbrev.

Check to see if you any words out.

Never use a preposition to end a sentence with.

Use apostrophe's right.

Last but not least, lay off clichés.

Fun to Know

"Typewriter" is the longest word that can be made using the letters only on one row of the keyboard.

"Stewardesses" is the longest word typed with only the left hand, but let me point out that my name, BARBARA BRABEC, could be one of the longest personal names that can be typed with only the left hand.

Did you know that no word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver, or purple?


Barbara Brabec's Editing Checklist
of Common Writing Errors

(or Why You Need an Editor)

Even the most careful writer is likely to make some of the following common writing errors:

Are you sure about your punctuation? Every little mark has a meaning of its own, and where you place (or forget to place) each mark can make a BIG difference in how readers will judge the quality of your writing.

Many writers struggle with commas (too many, not enough, or used in the wrong place); hyphenate two words that are now commonly written as one; use quotations marks incorrectly; mix up colons and semicolons; overuse exclamation points (which should be used rarely, if ever); and murder apostrophes.

Apostrophes are used to indicate possession (Sam's book or the peoples' voice), or to form contractions (can't, shouldn't), but NEVER to indicate plural. (It's not the 1970's but the 1970s; not DVD's but DVDs.)

Are all words properly capitalized or italicized? There are more than a dozen capitalization rules, so when in doubt, check a grammar book for guidance. Italics are used to distinguish certain words or phrases from others in the text; also for titles of things that can stand by themselves, such as a book or movie. Articles, poems, and TV shows, on the other hand, should be placed between quotation marks. In a book manuscript, don't use underlining when you mean italics. This is an outdated typing rule.

Are you using the right words? As Mark Twain once said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." While the right words in a brochure, advertisement or news release can motivate someone to buy your product or service, the wrong words can just as easily turn them off. (As any copywriter will tell you, some words have more sales power than others.)

Then there is the matter of choosing words that are grammatically correct, such as that/which; who/whom; their/there/they're; to/too; further/farther; affect/effect; fewer/less; your/you're, and its/it's. Using the wrong word will make educated readers wonder about your professionalism.

Note: When English is not your first language, it's very easy to use the wrong words here and there, and all the more important to have an experienced editor check your writing for errors.

"Some slips of the pen are plainly typographical errors. Proof-reading, alas, is a losing, if not a lost art. Other embarrassments stem from ignorance or overconfidence.

"But the vast majority of our hoo-haws result from sheer carelessness. We take our eye off the page, and behold: A Methodist church in South Carolina is a non-prophet organization, and John Wilkes Booth was responsible for the assignation of Abraham Lincoln."  - © James J. Kilpatrick, The Writer's Art (syndicated newspaper column). Used by permission.

Do you sometimes transpose words? Now that so many writers are relying on a spell-checker, it's very easy to miss words that have been transposed. They are still correctly spelled, but they're the wrong words (e.g., form/from, for/fro).

Are your subjects and verbs in agreement? Singular subjects need singular verbs; plural subjects need plural verbs. Always focus on the subject. It's not "One of the boxes ARE missing," but "One of the boxes IS missing."  

Are your pronouns and antecedents in agreement? The most common error is using "they" or "their" instead of the necessary gender-specific word. Example: "If a business owner goes broke today, it may not be their fault," has to be ". . . his or her fault." (When this gets clumsy, it's often easier to take the plural route: "If business owners go broke today, it may not be their fault.")

Are all the words and letters you meant to include actually there? Our brains often move faster than our fingers can type the words, so it's very easy to drop a word from a sentence, or a letter at the end of a word. (A missing "s" or "d," for example, will affect present/past tense or cause singular/plural errors.)

Are all your sentences complete and properly ordered in paragraphs? Avoid run-on sentences—two independent clauses that can stand alone, but are run together without a proper connector (a punctuation mark or a connecting word such as and, or, but, so, etc.).

Long paragraphs should be broken up to make the reading easier. In nonfiction, make a new paragraph when you shift your focus or change topics; in fiction, also make a new paragraph when the scene changes and when a different person is speaking.

The Trouble with Spell-Check
and Grammar Checkers

REMEMBER THAT SPELL-CHECK finds only misspelled words according to its idea of what's correct. First, your spell-check dictionary probably doesn't include terms common to your particular industry or even your country. (For example, both Word and WordPerfect spell-checkers often suggest using British spelling instead of American.) More important, spell-check isn't going to point out when you've used the wrong word (incorrect meaning), or made a typo (an/and, not/now, the/them, to/too, if/of, etc.).

As for grammar checkers, while they are sometimes better than nothing, you need a good understanding of grammar to use them because some of the suggestions they make are simply ridiculous.

Copyright © 2000-2016 by Barbara Brabec.
All Rights Reserved.

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